Depending on your situation, the holidays are either about the rare opportunity to spend precious quality time with friends and family, or an unfortunate mandatory rendezvous with all the people who annoy you to your core. Either way, it’s likely you’ll have some downtime.
Most people choose to spend that time either cooking or watching football, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Why not watch a movie instead? Better yet, why not sink into the true mood of the holiday and watch a movie about strange, quirky, broken, or dysfunctional families? At the very least, it might make you more grateful for your own messed-up clan.
Willy Grant (Bruce Dern) is a senile Montanan who goes on a road trip with his son (Will Forte) to collect his $1 million sweepstakes prize. Trouble is, the sweepstakes doesn’t really exist—at least not in the way a gullible old man would believe. Some family movies are pure comedies, like pretty much every Wes Anderson film; others are pure tragedy, like The Ice Storm. Nebraska somehow manages to achieve both. It's a great film.
The IMDb description for this one is spot on: “A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover.”
What’s not intriguing about that? It’s hard to describe the appeal of this film. While at times melodramatic, it takes an honest and enthralling look at the complexity (and humor) of father-son relationships—particularly later in life.
It might be a bit of a curveball on this list, but this by turns creepy, funny, and heartbreaking documentary tells one of the most absurd true stories of all time. It's really a movie you should go into cold, but here's the hook: It concerns a grieving Texan family whose 13-year-old son disappears, only to turn up again years later... in Spain. Suffice it to say, all is not as it seems.
Like most David O. Russell films, this one is all about the acting—almost to the detriment of the story. However, the football backdrop is an appropriate setting for holiday viewing—not to mention the obsessive, neurotic, and dysfunctional nature of the Solatano family. It’s funny, quirky, romantic, engaging, and sometimes silly. And Chris Tucker frets a lot about his hair.
Darker and more twisted than most of the other films on this list (with the possible exception of The Imposter), The Grifters is a stylish neo-noir thriller about confidence men and women—two of whom happen to be a mother and son. With sharp writing and an all-star cast including Anjelica Huston, Annette Benning, and John Cusack, it was nominated for four Academy Awards. It's a great watch—just don't expect a happy ending.
Honorable Mention: Transparent
This isn't a movie and it's not on Netflix, but Amazon's first prestige drama series is something really special. When patriarch Mort Pfefferman (brilliantly portrayed by Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor) comes out to his ex-wife and three children as Maura, his self-obsessed family deals with the revelation in different, revealing ways. It's an unusually incisive show, tackling big, uncomfortable issues in an honest and brave way. Essential viewing for fans of TV's ongoing renaissance.
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